18 March 2008

Cinderella Man

The March movie of the month was, of course, Cinderella Man staring Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and the wonderful Paul Giamatti. This is the true story of Depression era boxer Jim Braddock's rise from the soup line to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Quick plot summary: Braddock is at the peak of his career when the depression hits. We learn that he lost a big fight and his career has spiraled downward to the point that his boxing license is revoked. Living in poverty, Jim is forced to go on relief and even beg to keep his family together. Then opportunity comes. Corn Griffin, the number 2 contender, has to find a fighter on short notice when his opponent drops out. Braddock is chosen on the novelty that he has never been knocked out (and no one else will take a fight without time to train). In a shocking turn of events, Braddock wins in the 3rd round. He continues to win matches and finds himself fighting for the Heavy Weight Championship against Max Baer, who recently killed a man in the ring. In the meantime Jim has not only distanced himself form poverty but also paid back all the relief he was given. He is dubbed the Cinderella Man and is made a hero of the common people. Think Seabiscut but a boxer. Braddock wins the Heavyweight Title and all is well.

I know a lot of people don't like the sports movie genre because they don't like the idea of taking sports and turning it into a metaphor for life. I personally don't have a problem with that formula. I love movies like The Natural, Hoosiers, Rocky etc. But what sets this movie apart is that it's a true story about a man who finds himself in dire circumstance and manages to fight his way out. And by the way he's a professional athlete. So it's really the life story of an amazing man who happens to be a boxer. I think that's also why I love the original Rocky. There's only really 5 minutes or less of boxing in that film. Anyway, I digress. Cinderella Man is a great story about the triumph of the human spirit, beautifully told through the eyes of Opie.

A quick note that makes the story more palatable for me: Max Baer is kind of depicted as a murderous thug. The truth is that Max was devastated when he killed Frankie Campbell in a match earlier in his career. In fact he lost 4 of his next 6 matches before moving to the east coast and defeating Primo Carneira for the title. 

So I need to talk about the actors. There is something I really don't like about Russell Crowe. I can't put my finger on it but he drives me crazy. On the other hand I must concede that he is a fine actor. This film and Beautiful Mind, among others, are fine examples of his workmanship. When I finally pin down what I don't like I'll let you all know. It's there, trust me. I also have very mixed feelings about Renee Zellweger. I keep telling myself that I don't really care for her acting but every film that I think of with her in it she does a pretty darn good job. There are scenes in Cinderella Man where we see her struggling with the realities of poverty and fighting to keep her family together that put a lump in my throat. But something about her still bugs me. The "You are the champion of my heart" was a bit over the top but it could have been worse. Now Paul Giamatti. In my book this man can do no wrong. I love him even in really crappy movies like Lady in the Water. But you should check him out in The Illusionist. I just really like watching him act. His portrayl of Joe Gould puts all the fun into this film. And he delivers one of the best lines of the film. Jim is begging for money and when he approaches Joe he appologizes. Joe replies by saying "What the hell do you have to be sorry for?" I seriously am moved just thinking of that part and Paul's delivery in that scene. Wonderful. Maybe my favorite part of the film. I hope he continues to make many more movies.

So that was Cinderella Man. I hope you all really enjoyed it like I did. On to the April Movie of the month. This category is a bit more complicated. I want everyone to suggest 2 films - an original and it's remake (or a film based on the original). Let me give examples: Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven (for that matter, Magnificent Seven and Three Amigos), Bringing Up Baby and What's Up Doc, Cheaper by the Dozen and Cheaper by the Dozen, Father of the Bride (Spencer Tracy) and Father of the Bride (Steve Martin), Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invasion, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bedtime Story and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Man Who Knew Too Little, Oceans Eleven and Oceans Eleven, The Italian Job and The Italian Job etc etc. You get the point. Feel free to submit one of my suggestions above. If you need help I found this
website useful.

My official submission is Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Mr. Deeds (2002). If you found this category a pain I promise next month it will be much lighter. So let me know what you thought of Cinderella Man and DON'T FORGET TO SUBMIT YOUR MOVIES!


joN. said...

yeah, russell crowe bothers me too. even more than renee zellwegger. i know a lot of people take cheap shots at her looks, but you gotta admit: she's (by far) the hottest gnome in hollywood.

actually, you know who else bothers me? paul giamatti. i know. blasphemy. fact is, he bothers me in most things he does, but he did really really well in this movie. in the scenes he was absent i found myself really missing him. the corner ring stuff was especially fascinating. when i watch boxing movies i always think - shouldn't we have outgrown gladitorial events such as these, i dunno... like 3000 years ago? but then i get sucked into the fighting strategy. the moments with giamatti and crowe in the corner developing their strategies between rounds was fascinating. even more so than some of the micky stuff in rocky. i also loved giamatti's psychological warfare with the opponents.

craig bierko, who played max baer was also really fun to watch. he was great in 'boston legal' on the season he was on. first thing i did after watching the movie was check out baer's info online to see if that killing boxers thing was true. it would make him an even worse villain than drago from rocky iv. thanks j.r. for pointing out that it was true, but that his murderous personality may have been embellished. i mean, max baer later became a supreme court justice of the united states (look it up!).

i liked the story a lot and i got into it, but i can see why it wasn't very well received when it came out. one chain of theaters even offered a money back guarantee -- no questions asked -- to anyone who claimed they didn't enjoy the movie. i wonder if i would claim the money. i probably wouldn't since i officially enjoyed the movie, but it wasn't as good as i remember the critics gushed about it. i really found it very similar to rocky -- except james braddock already was pretty much at the top once before (and had a starving family in the depression i guess).

speaking of the depression, what's up with that? based on depression-era movies i've seen, the depression consisted entirely of a time when hardly anybody worked, but everybody spent a lot of time looking for a new sports figure to fawn over. this trend came to an abrupt and horrible end in 1937 when james braddock faced seabiscuit in the ring.

james braddock was a notable great guy though. it's great to see someone succeed who is determined to give back when they achieve success. it's how society should work ideally. hopefully everyone watched the credits in their entirety. over the credits we discovered that james braddock not only won the baer bout, but also helped build some important bridge, served in the military during world war ii and eventually be sworn in as president of the united states of america.

Swint said...

Cinderella Man is among my favorite movies. I actually like Russel Crowe quite a bit, but Rene Zellweger bothers me, but I agree that she is really good in the movie.

I too love Paul Giamatti, every movie he is in is better because he is in it. He really makes Cinderella Man. He is also in the new HBO mini-series on John Adams, based on the book by McCullough. I love the book. Giamatti plays Adams which I was worried about, but he did a great job in the first episode. I highly recommend it!

Maria said...

I'm sorry- I know this may be cruel, but I can't focus on Renee's acting when I have to stare at that squished face...seriously.

The was a first screening for me, and I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. The depression ( or depictions I've seen) has always been fascinating to me- that Americans had to live like that ( and a small percentage still do). In any case, I loved the story and agree with the touching scene where Braddock went to the club to ask for money- very brave.

Maria said...

OH! I would like to nominate the Italian Job and the Italina Job. I enjoy the remake; never seen the original.

J.R. said...

Swint and Jon you need to suggest April movies.

joN. said...

hey man, don't rush me.

here are some i totally wouldn't mind doing. 'gone in 60 seconds,' which was made into a hilarious adult film with a title i won't repeat here (actually i think someone just thought of a funny adult film title). no, just kidding, there was a 'gone in 60 seconds' in the 70s i think.

also, i wouldn't mind seeing 'flash gordon: space soldiers' (the serial from the 30s) and flash gordon (1980). i hear that flash gordon from the 80s is quite good.

plus there's the demille version of 'lost horizon' and the 70s musical of the same name.

and we can't forget bob and doug's shakespeare adaptation 'strange brew' which was remade by kennath brannagh in the 90s and was called 'hamlet.'

Chapman Family said...

This is actually a great category! wow. I would like to suggest "The Parent Trap" with Hayley Mills and "The Parent Trap" with Lindsay Lohan. Classic! -Movies you can watch with the whole family! (none of those "adult films" :) jk)

Carl Sticht said...

There must be something wrong with you if there's something you don't like about Russell Crowe. My big pet peeve is he isn't in enough movies, and that his last one is a film I couldn't care less about (you know, the crapper with Denzel, American Gangster).

Anyway, after much deliberation (probably about 15 seconds' worth), I'm going to nominate the Chocolate Factory movies. It was either that or the Poseidons.

Maybe down the road, you could do cool movie based on a really crappy book. Or just awesome book adaptations. I'll already suggest Die Hard for that matter.

And one last note, it kind of sucks that I don't have the appreciation for films made before I was born. I try, but for the most part, I can't stand the acting or production value. So for that being the case with this month, I was pretty much hosed. I do have to say that of the remakes I have seen, Truth about Charlie and Planet of the Apes pretty much blew, and the originals were probably much better. But I could never get past the fact that the apes had horrible make-up. Sucks to be me with my OCD. Anyway, catch you later!

Stephen Snow said...

We nominate Batman (I do not know if you consider the later movies "remakes") and Bewitched (the original was a TV series but the movie version was classic). Anyway, do what you want with these ideas. SLS

Maker said...

My favorite line from all the comments made thus far. "this trend came to an abrupt and horrible end in 1937 when james braddock faced seabiscuit in the ring." Bahahahahaha! My head exploded when I read that line.

I enjoyed Cinderella Man for what it was. A solid movie with some great moments. Can't stand Zellwegger.
My favorite part of the movie, and the part where I almost cried (were it not for my lack of tear ducts...and a conscience), was when his son stole that sausage so that he wouldn't be shipped off to the relatives like some of his schoolmates. If you are a parent, this was one of those moments.

I give the movie an B+. Sans Zellwegger it's an A-.

I nominate Labrynth or Ladyhawke, unless we have done those already.

joN. said...

hmmm. i'd also like to nominate mr. and mrs. smith and mr. and mrs. smith.

have i nominated too many already? you never told me i only had so many i could do.

The Snows said...

Now why wasn't Sabrina, or Oceans 11 on the list for April. Oh I get it, April Fools Joke.